by Jen Jenkins, MCN Market Analyst
An address first delivered in 1926 at Harvard Medical School, The Care of the Patient by Francis W. Peabody, MD explores a topic that seems to remain relevant in the practice of medicine today. Dr. Peabody (1881-1927) was renowned for setting himself apart from his colleagues throughout his career by treating each patient as a real person and not just according to their disease or disorder. The premise of this essay is the belief that “One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”
As science and technology improved then, and continue to improve now, the practice of medicine puts a greater emphasis on the science and less on the actual care of patients. Students are exiting medical school with excellent knowledge where medicine is concerned but the actual practice of medicine has been somewhat neglected. Dr. Peabody believed caring for patients is something learned over time, not necessarily in the 4 to 5 years it takes to complete medical school, but he also believed it to be the medical institution’s job to provide the foundation for this type of care. The pressure to effectively diagnose and treat often overlooks the necessity of conversation and the vital importance of creating a personal relationship with the patient. The fundamental sciences will always be imperative but intimately knowing a patient as a human being and not just as a sick individual is the practice of medicine in the broadest sense.
The diagnosis and treatment of disease is a very limited aspect of practicing medicine. A quote that stood out was “The art of medicine and the science of medicine are not antagonistic but supplementary to each other.” Oftentimes, it is not just the disease that needs treating but the individual who needs to be treated. This takes time, which more now than ever is a commodity difficult to obtain in most settings, and it also takes compassion and understanding. The practice of medicine is intensely personal and the more impersonal and clinical the profession becomes the further we stray from the main objective of it all – the actual care of the patient.
See the related 1984 commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on this article.